When I Drop My Armor, When My Armor Falls

Donika Kelly

with a line from Gwendolyn Brooks

                         So, there’s a baby?

Yes, there’s a baby—or the image

of the baby, mistaken for the baby

itself. Itself: the body toddled

to the mirror, the body wavering

over the tender soles, the armature

of ambulation nascent as the image

of the body emerging from the glass

tunnel: whose hand, whose belly,

whose dimpled knees: itself.

                         But this is a lie: the image

                         is not but is of.

Of course!

Still, mark how the baby moves:

a marionette, a tentacle mind,

a rippling of sand, limestone, and ash,

heat and silver.

                         Don’t we say, your daddy,

                         wasn’t a glassmaker?

We say nothing of your mama, though,

her face close to the baby,

almost a baby herself.

                         Is a mother whoever plucks,

                         like a star of morning,

                         the baby’s name from the sky?

The image fastened to the sound:

cuirass and gauntlet:

tasset and greave:

a cloak, a basket of bread, of wine.

                         Does the story begin here

                         and, in beginning, also end,

                         the baby an it, the mother a girl

                         one a scaffold for the other?

The story begins with an emergency,

the mama and baby trapped

in the mirror when the glass

breaks, then, suddenly,

they’re free with—

                         A ghastly freedom?

Not ghastly, no,

but not golden either.

Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations and Bestiary. A Cave Canem graduate fellow and a founding member of the collective Poets at the End of the World, she is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Iowa.
Originally published:
June 12, 2023


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